Protest imagery of hands in the air holding strongly worded and visually bold signs are commonplace in the current national conscience. What often times is forgotten or unrecognized, however, is how the signs got there and the work is done in visualizing the resistance for movements and social justice campaigns.
Creative actions are an important part of the organizing work and on the ground efforts that push for social change. Nowadays, however, protest signs and posters can be found throughout the Internet ranked in listicles such as “Best Signs Protesting Charlottesville Violence” or the “Best signs from the massive counter-protest in Boston.” While it is important to share creative messaging, these types of articles can oversimplify the importance of using art as a tool for advocacy and organizing.
Advocates like Rebekah Hinojosa, an organizer for the Sierra Club in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, use art in their activism to discuss these tough issues in several creative ways that actually build community. Hinojosa, for example, hosted an Artbuild at the McAllen Creative Incubator last weekend and invited the community to join. So I did.
I caught up with Hinojosa on Saturday as she was setting up blank masks and paint. As we set up we chatted and she explained what an Artbuild is, how it is useful, and to what end to these creative actions help the movement.
Josue: Can you tell me what an Artbuild is?
Rebekah: ArtBuilds are an art-making session with organizers, artists, community members and allies collaborative creating or building the materials or props for an action. It’s basically a hangout where people get together to make pieces art as part of the border wall resistance. So we have an event on Nov. 11, and these are costumes that we are making are for that event. We will be dressing up as ocelots and birds that are native to this area. We are also going to have people wear butterfly costumes and border wall costumes. It will include street theatre about the impacts our local wildlife and community will be facing because of the border wall.
J: How did you develop the idea for the creative action?
R: We met as a community and identified opportunities where we can spread our message to a local, state, and national audience. Together we brainstormed a way to visualize the message and the idea was to create these costumes that can be used in multiple events, in action with officials, and even community outreach to educate the public.
J: Why are artistic events like this important in campaigns?
R: Having Artbuilds is part of making art collectively as a community, thinking about and envisioning what the issue is and how we can address the problem, which is really important for movement building. Artbuilds are also a great space to sit down and develop the campaign messaging and think of new creative ways of getting the point across rather than the same old played out wording.
J: What kind of activities are done in an Artbuild?
R: Artbuilds can include various activities like banner making, puppet building, and painting signs. It’s another way to get involved. It can be family oriented with music, food, and it is a community event itself, which is great for building a relationship with the larger public. Also people enjoy making the pieces and being creative. It’s fun.
J: What are other benefits to Artbuilds?
R: The material that is made is all collected to be reused for future actions. Collecting the various deployable art pieces saves valuable time and creates cohesive messaging for border wall resistance or any issues for that matter. It also assures that signs are visible and that they augment the messaging of the campaigns. Developing creative messaging can also help with language barriers since signs and costumes can cross-linguistic differences through imagery. It looks cool and can be very impactful in getting the message across because it makes individuals remember or relate to whatever issue in a way that they previously hadn’t.
If you are interested in learning more about Artbuilds and how to make your own, check out this helpful resource.